Michigan: Beacon for Lighthouse Enthusiasts

Leaving Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, we drove along the scenic Niagara Parkway to Fort Erie where we enjoyed our first view of Lake Erie, the fourth Great Lake on our Great Lakes Road Trip.


Site of Fort Erie


Lake Erie flows into the Niagara River

As we continued onto highway 3, at Dunnville we stumbled upon a bed and breakfast bearing the same name as my husband. We knew relatives of Jim’s grandmother likely lived in this region of Canada but we were unprepared to encounter the Lalor surname. While an overnight there may have proved enlightening, we wanted to travel more miles on day 9 so we drove on.


Jim at Lalor Estate Inn

We stopped for the evening in the village of Birch Run, Michigan (pop. 1555). Its only claim to fame as far as I could tell was a fast food joint called Halo Burger that bills itself as the home of “Michigan’s best burger since 1923.”

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Our route on day 9

Back on the road the following morning for day 10 of our Great Lakes Road Trip, we decided to get off the interstate and follow the shore of Lake Huron instead.

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If you, like me, are a lighthouse enthusiast, put Michigan on your bucket list. With more freshwater coastline than any other state (only Alaska has more coastline overall), Michigan claims more lighthouses than any other state. Consequently, opportunities to visit these beacons abound along the Michigan shores of Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, and Lake Michigan. We picked up a Michigan Lighthouse Guide and took our time stopping frequently along the way.

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Our first stop at Tawas Point Lighthouse was especially instructive. We met a couple moving into the lighthouse who were participants in the Lighthouse Keeper Program. After a successful application for the program, these volunteers would provide tours of the lighthouse during their 2-week stay. What a fun experience if you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity in a beautiful location!


Tawas Point Lighthouse (volunteer lighthouse keeper on far left)


View of Lake Huron from Alpena, Michigan


Alpena Light


New Presque Isle Lighthouse

New Presque Isle Lighthouse replaced the old lighthouse in 1870. We had to hike a distance to reach the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse which was not open but this charming squatty beacon and the grounds were well worth the walk.


Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

I was initially shocked to see the jockey statue below and assumed it was racist but I was relieved and impressed when I read the explanation.



Forty Mile Point Lighthouse, named for its location 40 miles southeast of Old Mackinaw Point, opened in 1896. Today, it offers a keeper’s program for volunteers who stay in their own RVs on-site. Our keeper enthusiastically shared his extensive knowledge about the lighthouse and its history.


40 Mile Point Lighthouse


Volunteer guide at 40 Mile Light

When we climbed the tower, the views of Lake Huron were incredible with the color of the water and the sandy beaches which looked like we were somewhere in the Caribbean. Take note: You must wear closed shoes to climb this tower. A recent accident involving a girl wearing flip-flops brought about this rule.


View of Lake Huron from 40 Mile Light


Selfie with view of Lake Huron

We walked down to the water’s edge to see the location of the shipwreck of the J.S. Fay which occurred on October 19, 1905. The wooden steamer broke up on a sandbar and sank in about 12 feet of water just offshore but a large chunk of her side washed ashore where it can be viewed to this day.


Shipwreck of the J.S. Fay

In Cheboygan, we visited this rather unassuming lighthouse, Cheboygan Front Range Light, built in 1880. Today, it is owned by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association and open to the public.


Cheboygan Front Range Light

Cheboygan Crib Light opened offshore in 1884 but was moved to its present location in Gordon Turner Park in Cheboygan in 1985. Keepers never lived in this facility and had to travel daily by boat to operate the beacon during its period of service. To me, it’s one the most photo-worthy of all the lighthouses we visited.


Cheboygan Crib Light

The last lighthouse we visited on day 10 was Old Mackinac Point, opened in 1892 and operations ceased in 1957 when Mackinac Bridge opened. The lighthouse closed for the day before our arrival so we didn’t get inside but the outside was impressive.


Old Mackinac Point

To finish day 10, we dined at the #1 rated restaurant in Mackinaw City, Darrow’s Family Restaurant. I’m always looking for locally sourced items and the parmesan encrusted whitefish met that requirement. Jim selected the roast beef with dressing and gravy.




Darrow’s doesn’t claim to provide a fine dining experience and there’s nothing pretentious about the place. It’s a brightly-lit family-style restaurant similar to a Perkin’s or Country Kitchen. The line moves rapidly as they serve customers quickly and efficiently and the place was packed with older people who love the comfort food they offer. While we waited in line, we visited with two couples from towns that neighbor ours in North Iowa. (It seems there’s always an Iowa connection on our trips.) Our food was tasty like a home-cooked meal if you’re cooking for an army.

Come back next time and accompany us to Mackinac Island on Day 11 of our Great Lakes Road Trip.


Based on events from September 2017.





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Celebrating 35 years at Niagara Falls


We arrived in Niagara Falls the evening of day 7 of our Great Lakes Road Trip on our 35th wedding anniversary. Our honeymoon consisted of a visit to my grandmother followed by a camping trip so what better place to spend our 35th than the “honeymoon capital of the world”? I had visited as a child but Jim had never seen the falls and we were eager to see this natural wonder together.

Even without a reservation, we had no trouble getting a room at Comfort Inn The Pointe located directly next to the park on the American side. I looked for a hotel with a view of the falls but in retrospect, our location was perfect with just a short walk to the falls and all the viewing points.


View from our hotel room toward the Niagara River

After checking in, we set off immediately to see as much as possible on foot before dark. Our first breathtaking view impressed us beyond description. We are so grateful to those early environmentalists who founded the Free Niagara movement in the late 1860s to protect this majestic natural wonder from commercial interests. America’s oldest state park was founded in 1885 as a result of their persistent efforts.


View of American Falls from Prospect Point

Today, Niagara Falls State Park is open and free to the public 365 days a year. We walked the trails to all the viewing areas and, as darkness fell, we watched in wonder to see the falls illuminated by red, white, and blue lights.

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Map of Niagara Falls with the viewing areas we walked to circled in black


View of American Falls from Prospect Point


Raging Niagara River looking toward the American Falls Pedestrian Bridge to Goat Island


Trail in the state park


American Rapids


Above Bridal Veil Falls


American Falls from Luna Island


American Falls from Luna Island


35 years of wedded bliss


American Falls


Looking toward Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side


Looking toward Canadian side from Terrapin Point

The Serbian inventor, Nikola Tesla, designed the first hydroelectric plant in the world which opened at Niagara Falls in 1895. Today over 4 million kilowatts of electricity can be generated here and shared between the U.S. and Canada.


Monument to honor Nikola Tesla

In our excitement, we neglected to plan for dinner. By the time we finished exploring the park, we couldn’t find a restaurant in the immediate vicinity to sate our hunger. We ended up celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary at a Pakistani buffet near closing time in an open mall. While the restaurant lacked romantic atmosphere, the food was tasty.

The following morning, on day 8 of our Great Lakes Road Trip, after a hasty breakfast we made straight for the Maid of the Mist. We were among the first in line for the drenching must-do boat trip to experience Niagara Falls from below. Tickets were $18.25 but I see they’ll increase to $19.25 in 2018. It was well worth it. Get there early unless you have plenty of time to stand in line and PLAN TO GET WET!


The observation tower above the river

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Another Maid of the Mist ahead of us at Horseshoe Falls


American Falls


Horseshoe Falls


American Falls


A totally drenching experience

Following our ride on the Maid of the Mist, we explored the trails and stairways to numerous additional viewing points on the American side before driving to the Canadian side to experience Niagara Falls from those viewpoints.


View of the trails and steps as you leave Maid of the Mist

I’d always read the views are better from the Canadian side but, in the end, I thought both had their strong points. While the views on the Canadian side are better straight on, the park seems more extensive on the American side with lovely paths and numerous views from various directions.


Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side


Trail with landscaping on the Canadian side


View of American Falls from Canada

I would place Niagara Falls right up there with the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone in terms of grandeur and awe-inspiring beauty. If you haven’t been there, what are you waiting for?




Based on events from September 2017.

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Kingston, Ontario to Niagara Falls

Disappointed to learn Fort Henry, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Kingston, Ontario, closed for the season on September 3, we, nevertheless, walked around a bit and took a few photos on day 7 of our Great Lakes Road Trip. Built in the 1830’s atop Point Henry and overlooking the St. Lawrence River on a military route from Montreal to Ottawa,  the strategic value was readily apparent and the views were outstanding.


View from Ft. Henry toward Kingston


The gate at Ft. Henry at the upper fort


View of the lower fort


The lower fort

Kingston is the door to the 1000 Islands, a region located in the St. Lawrence River along the U.S./ Canada border. We drove 20 miles east to Ganonoque for a boat tour of the Thousand Islands with Gananoque Boat Line, billed as the largest and oldest of the cruise companies in the islands.  We decided on the 1-hour Beauty of the Islands cruise departing from Gananoque for $24.95 rather than the 5-hour Boldt Castle Stopover for $48.80.

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Beauty of the Islands cruise route

The 1000 Islands are rich with history, beginning with First Nations people who inhabited the area before French explorer Jacques Cartier discovered the area in the 1500s followed by Samuel de Champlain in the 1600s. By the late 1800s, the area became the summer vacation destination for millionaires during the Gilded Age. George Boldt, the wealthy owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, built Boldt Castle for his wife, Louise, who died before its completion without ever seeing it.

Incidentally, Thousand Island salad dressing was created here. One version of the story says George Boldt’s chef created the recipe but another version says it was created by Sophia Lalonde, the wife of a fishing guide. Whichever story you believe, when George Boldt got ahold of the recipe, he put it on the menu at the Waldorf Astoria, and the rest is history.

Today, the archipelago of 1864 islands in the St. Lawrence River remains a vacation paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Only a few islands are reachable by ferry; otherwise private watercraft are required with plenty of boat rentals available throughout the area. Twenty-one islands comprise the 1000 Island National Park of Canada with docks, trails, and camping facilities.

As we embarked our cruise boat, the day was warm and sunny. We enjoyed the ride with commentary to accompany the close-up views of many small islands and cottages.



I have no idea which ferry we saw in the photo below but if you look carefully, you can see it’s cable-driven. This method is safer on a river with a strong current. We were lucky to have gotten a look at this one in action.

IMG_7257Many of the islands are small enough to accommodate just one cottage. In fact, on our cruise they told us to be considered an island, it must be at least 6 square feet of land with at least 2 trees. I read on various websites, however, that the requirement is one tree and the land must be fully above water 365 days a year. Either way, some of these islands are very small and could easily be submerged by a high wake.




Note the sign “PLEASE NO WAKE”






Following our cruise, we crossed the Thousand Islands International Bridge to re-enter the United States.



Thousand Island International Bridge


View of the St. Lawrence River from the Thousand Island International Bridge

We had planned to follow the shore of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls but when I saw Seneca Falls, NY on the map, I was keen to visit the site of the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. and Jim was willing.

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In July 1848, over 300 women and men gathered in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY to discuss the rights of women. Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, on the first day only women were allowed to attend and discuss principles. On the second day, 100 women and men discussed and signed the Declaration of Sentiments which expanded on the sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence and began with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.”


Restored Wesleyan Chapel where the convention was held


Interior of Wesleyan Chapel


Sign outside Wesleyan Chapel


Outside the Visitor Center at Women’s Rights National Historical Park

For me, the most moving exhibits inside the Visitor Center were the First Wave Statue and an exact replica of the suffrage banner. The First Wave Statues represent the first wave of women’s rights activists including the 5 organizers of the convention, the men who supported their efforts, and others who did not sign the Declaration of Sentiments.


The suffrage banner celebrated the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 granting women the right to vote. The colors in the banner are purple for justice, white for purity of intent, and gold for courage. The stars represent the 36 states that ratified the amendment.


In 1980, the Women’s Rights Historical Park was established as part of the National Park Service. It’s easy to forget the struggles of those who led the way to establish the rights of women. It took another 72 years after the convention to secure the right to vote for women. Today, we have enjoyed that right for fewer than 100 years. This national park serves as an important reminder.

We finished day 7 in Niagara Falls to celebrate our wedding anniversary which I’ll share in my next post.


Based on events from September 2017.



Categories: Canada, History, National Parks, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Algonquin Provincial Park and More

Day 6 of our Great Lakes Road Trip dawned warm and sunny, a pleasant surprise since we packed for chilly weather in Ontario, Canada in mid-September. Excited to hike in Algonquin, we departed from our hotel bright and early and soon spotted what all the tourists come for in autumn.


As we entered the park, we pulled over to the West Gate to pay our fee. King’s Highway 60 through the park doesn’t require a permit unless you plan to stop along the 56 km (35 mi) roadway inside the park. We planned to take our time, explore, and hike a few trails so we gladly paid the $20 daily fee.


Established in 1893, Algonquin Park is the oldest and most well-known of Canada’s provincial parks. Comprising 7630 square km (2946 sq mi), the park attracts nearly one million visitors each year who come to experience its forests, lakes, and wildlife.  We stopped several times for photo opportunities like this.



Canoe Lake


Canoe Lake

When we reached the Algonquin Visitor Center, we had no idea we would spend so much time there. The views were amazing, the exhibits superb, and the wi-fi connection surprisingly good.



Panorama View from Algonquin Visitor Center


Algonquin Visitor Center

I would love to have seen bears, moose, and wolves in the wild but, since we didn’t, these exhibits were a special treat.


A highlight of our visit, the hike to Beaver Pond over rugged terrain was strenuous enough to seem longer than just 2 km but so well-marked we never lost our way.



Beaver Meadow



With 4500 beaver colonies within the park, I was surprised we didn’t see even one of the furry creatures. While we didn’t spot them at work, signs of their presence surrounded us and the result of their labor was impressive.


Beaver dam


Our last stop in the park, the Algonquin Logging Museum consisted of a reception building where we viewed an audiovisual program to introduce us to logging in the park and a trail of less than a mile with 20 outdoor exhibits. At one time, over half of the men in Canada worked in logging camps in the winter. Particularly for farmers, it was an opportunity to earn additional income after harvest, albeit a dangerous occupation.



Camboose shanty where men were housed


Inside the camboose, 52 men slept two to a bunk

Throughout the 1800’s, felled red and white pine were squared using only axes. The notches on the tree below show how deep to cut to square that side of the log. This process was repeated on each side. The result was a log that was easier to stack on a raft for transport and the log was ready to cut into boards at its destination.


To transport the logs to the raft, they had to be loaded onto a sleigh using a jammer, a wooden crane powered by horses.



On a steep descent, the sleigh could quickly speed out of control killing the horses in front so sandpipers lined the trail to throw hot sand in the path to slow the sleigh. The invention of the Barrienger brake in the photo below solved this problem


Barrienger brake

Once the logs arrived at the river, the danger was not past. The invention of the log chute assisted loggers in transporting the logs through the water.


Log Chute

This is just a small sample of the information we learned about the history of logging in the area. Logging continues today in over 50% of the park according to scientific guidelines in the Park Management Plan.

As we left the park, I took the photo below. We were delighted to get over 56 mpg (23.8 kpl) regularly on this trip. Traveling at slower speeds on two-lane roads through Canada and using unleaded fuel rather than gasohol each contributed to our excellent gas mileage. Also, note the temperature on September 17 was 82 degrees (28 C).


Successfully escaping Toronto traffic, we headed south for our first look at Lake Ontario, our third of the five Great Lakes and to spend the night in Kingston, Ontario. Rather than taking the freeway at Belleville, we opted to drive along the coast as much as possible.

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My paper map showed a bridge at Glenora but Google maps on my phone didn’t show a bridge. I was concerned that we’d end up backtracking but we were delighted to find a ferry when we arrived and it was free. After a short wait, we enjoyed a pleasant crossing to Adolphustown where we continued our drive along the lake to Kingston.


Glenora Ferry Dock


Glenora Ferry


Our Prius on the ferry


Lake Ontario

We asked at our hotel in Kingston for a restaurant recommendation and headed downtown to Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse. Located near the waterfront, we explored the area a bit before dinner. The AAA Tour Book confirmed Kingston was founded in 1673 as a fur trading post and strategic military base. With a population today just under 130,000, it’s also home to over 24,000 students at Queen’s University.    IMG_7194


Sitting outside at Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse, we could hardly believe our good fortune to have such a pleasant evening. Jim ordered the pork carnitas and I decided on the seafood poutine. Poutine is a French Canadian classic consisting of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Dianne’s seafood poutine, however, was made with fries, coconut green curry, shrimp, haddock, calamari, mussels, and queso fresco. Yum!


After a quick stroll to the water following dinner for another lighthouse photo, we returned to our hotel for the evening.


Kingston, located where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River, was a good place to begin our drive the next morning to explore the Thousand Islands. Come back to read all about it.


Based on events from September 2017.

Categories: Canada, Food, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lake Huron on Day 5

Every day on a road trip doesn’t have to be remarkable. Some days just entail driving from point A to point B. Day 5 of our Great Lakes Road Trip was a point A to point B kind of day with one notable exception. We were excited by our first peek at the second Great Lake on our trip, Lake Huron, along the North Channel at the town of Bruce Mines, Ontario.


North Channel of Lake Huron

We stopped again in nearby Thessalon for another look.


Okay, so we stopped again a third time in Blind River.


At Blind River, we struck up a conversation with a couple from New York headed the opposite direction and a man from Ontario. All agreed we should definitely avoid Toronto traffic on the 400 if we didn’t plan to visit the city. We decided right then to avoid Toronto by continuing east to North Bay, then south to Huntsville for the night. The following morning we would drive through Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada’s oldest and most famous provincial park.

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I called several hotels from the car to reserve a room for the night and found the rates were high for a town of fewer than 20,000 inhabitants in rural Canada. I finally asked one hotel why the rates were so high and she told me the following weekend was the Huntsville Fall Fair and rates were always high in the fall when people came to visit Algonquin Provincial Park to see the autumn color. Besides that, she said the weather had been beautiful and wasn’t expected to last much longer. Convinced, I reserved a room at the Comfort Inn Huntsville for nearly $200.


We arrived in Huntsville a week too early for the Fall Fair but the next week we probably wouldn’t have found an available room at all. It was a charming town, reminiscent of small resort towns in New England or Wisconsin and I’m sure they attract a huge crowd for the Fall Fair.

After dining on chips and salsa in our hotel room the previous evening, we were anticipating an outstanding meal at the highly recommended 3 Guys and a Stove.


We arrived early and requested a table outside which, as you can see, was easy to accommodate. I think we may have been the first diners to arrive. Our table was upstairs and the view through the trees was especially lovely.


Looking at the menu, we experienced sticker shock. Is that a thing for menus? The entrees cost $30+ and a salad was an additional $9-$14. Fortunately for us, our server told us the special that evening was a BBQ dinner with three meats (brisket, ribs, and chicken), potato salad, and mediterranean salad for $33.95 which he said was plenty of food for two. We ordered it and quite honestly, it wasn’t exceptional in taste or adequate in quantity. Including my glass of wine, our bill was nearly $51CAD. In US dollars, that was $42 for essentially one meal. A little pricy but the setting was pleasant and the weather was perfect for outdoor dining.


We returned to our hotel immediately following dinner to make it an early night in preparation for our visit to Algonquin Provincial Park the next morning. Stop back next time to read all about it. I promise the next post will be more interesting than this one.


Based on events from September 2017.

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All Aboard the Agawa Canyon Tour Train

We enjoy sightseeing by train so when I read the listing for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train in the AAA Tour Book for Ontario, we were keen to experience the 114 mile journey from Sault Ste. Marie to the Agawa Canyon. We also hoped to spot some autumn color along the way even though we realized mid-September was early in the season.


I reserved seats for 8:00 on the morning of September 15, day 4 of our Great Lakes Road Trip, for $91.15 each ($81.42 for seniors). Fortunately for us, the front desk staff at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, recommended we pick up our tickets ahead of time to skip standing in line the next morning. The train station was just down the street and we stopped by on our way to the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site. No lines and no waiting.

After an early breakfast the following morning at the hotel with many others who were likely taking the same train, we walked to the station.  After a short wait, the train arrived and we boarded our assigned car, the Montreal River.


Passengers await as the Agawa Canyon Tour Train arrives

We set off with high hopes that the fog would soon lift to reveal a blaze of color. The fog was slow to dissipate but we did see hints of color, nevertheless, as we rolled along.



A gps-triggered recorded commentary on the train forewarned us of upcoming points of interest and educated us about the history of the area as well as the geology. Breakfast and lunch were available in the dining car but after our ample breakfast, we chose to stick with the snacks we brought with us.



And we finally viewed blue skies and bright crimson and gold leaves which we appreciated all the more for the wait and anticipation.




At mile 102 we began the 500 foot descent through granite walls to the floor of the canyon.


Finally at mile 114, we reached our destination, Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park, accessible only by train and hiking trail. We arrived at the park around 12:30 and were told to be back at 2:00 pm for our return trip. We spent the next hour and a half hiking the trails and exploring the sights, including the Agawa River and waterfalls. To beat the crowd, we headed first to Lookout Trail that climbs 250 feet by trail and over 300 stairs to a panoramic view of the river and canyon.


Stairs to Lookout View


Panorama view of Agawa Canyon from the Lookout

Our next priority was the waterfalls and with limited time, we hurried first to Black Beaver Falls, then to South Black Beaver Falls.


Selfie at Black Beaver Falls

On the trail to Bridal Veil Falls, we spotted bear scat but no bears. We were pretty excited about the evidence, however.  IMG_6842


Agawa River with Bridal Veil Falls in the background


Bridal Veil Falls

A bit of fog was settling into the valley but the views were still spectacular. I was so enamored by the reflection of the trees and foliage in the water I took literally hundreds of photos but none quite captured their stunning beauty.





We managed to see everything in the park and return to the train on time.


On the return trip, I got my best photo of autumn color of the day in spite of the window glare. I’m sure a week or two later the foliage would be at its peak but we found the color to be breathtaking.

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We returned to Sault Ste. Marie around 6:00 pm, tired but satisfied and happy with our experience. In fact, we were so tired we didn’t even go out for dinner but settled instead for chips and salsa in our hotel room. I’m glad I hadn’t read the reviews of the Agawa Canyon Tour Train on TripAdvisor before our excursion because some were so negative they may have adversely influenced our decision to take this trip. It would be a shame to miss such an enjoyable day.


Based on events from September 2017.

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Sault Ste. Marie on Day 3

With a takeaway decaf coffee from Robin’s Donuts in hand, we left Villa Bianca Inn early in the morning on day 3 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017. We weren’t driving far but I was anxious to depart our 2.5-star accommodations. Our goal for the day was to reach Sault Ste. Marie, a mere 308 miles away, but who knew what adventures we might find along the way?

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Our first stop at Aguasabon River Gorge, where we discovered our third waterfall in as many days, convinced us this trip would be as much about waterfalls as it was about the Great Lakes. We would soon also add lighthouses to our list of highlights.


Aguasabon Falls and Gorge

The walk to the viewing platform provided us with gorgeous views of autumn color just beginning to appear. The walkway is wheelchair accessible to allow people with mobility issues to enjoy this beautiful place, too.


Walkway to Aguasabon Falls and Gorge

The Trans-Canada Highway, Provincial Hwy 17, offers stunning panoramas of Lake Superior along this stretch from Schreiber to Sault Ste. Marie. We didn’t pull over at every opportunity but we looked forward to every spectacular view like the one below.


View of Lake Superior

At our next stop at Old Woman Bay in Lake Superior Provincial Park, I tried a panorama photo to capture the size of this bay with limited success. I’ll have to practice this feature on my iPhone more to achieve mastery.


Old Woman Bay

As Jim drove on, I read in my AAA Ontario Tour Book about the Agawa Canyon Tour Train which departs from Sault Ste. Marie to tour this area. They strongly recommended advance reservations so I called on my smartphone to reserve for the following day. At $1 per minute through AT&T while traveling internationally, I was anxiously watching the minutes fly by as I sat on hold. I finally reached a customer service person and provided all the required information and then the call failed. I called back to discover I had to repeat all the information I had previously provided. I figured our tickets cost about $12 extra for the phone call, but we finally had a reservation for the following morning.

We arrived in Sault Ste. Marie around 3 pm and found a Holiday Inn Express right downtown across the street from the mall and close to St. Mary’s River Boardwalk. We immediately loved this hotel and planned to stay for two nights. The customer service was terrific and because we had to wait briefly for a room, they gave us an upgrade to a suite.




Kitchenette through the doorway

The Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site was within walking distance from our hotel and we had plenty of time to explore St. Mary’s River Boardwalk and the locks before dusk. The boardwalk is a mile long scenic walkway following the river and leading to the historic site.


St. Mary’s River Boardwalk

Built in 1895 to connect Lake Huron to Lake Superior, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal completed an all Canadian waterway from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean.  The Canadian canal became necessary when a ship transporting British troops was denied passage on the US side. When opened, it was the world’s longest lock and the first to operate by use of electricity which incidentally was generated on-site. Today, the world’s only remaining swing bridge dam is located here. The swing bridge dam is located upstream and can be deployed to protect the lock in the event of an accident. It was used once and worked successfully.

The visitor’s center is currently in a temporary building and while it was nearly closing time, the Park ranger stayed and visited with us, providing a wealth of information. She was obviously very knowledgeable and engaged in her position.


The old Administration Building at Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site


The lock at Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site


The Canadian lock with the International Bridge linking Canada and the US

Today the lock is used primarily for recreational craft. I remember visiting the canal with my family as a kid in the 60’s. At the time, I didn’t understand why the adults were so interested in the lock but today I understand their enthusiasm. It really is an engineering marvel.

Following our visit to the canal, I asked the staff at our hotel where I could get local fish for dinner and was directed just down the street to Gliss Steak and Seafood. After sub-standard meals the previous two nights, we felt we’d finally hit pay dirt. We were both satisfied with our choices.


First course: Greek salad for me and garden salad for Jim


Prime rib and Yorkshire pudding with sweet potato fries


Local white fish with sweet potato fries and veggies



Day 3 successfully completed

Satisfied with day 3, we looked forward to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train tour the following morning. Come back to see and hear all about it.



Based on events from September 2017.




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Silver Bay to Schreiber, Day 2 of GLRT 2017

We drove just 302 miles from Silver Bay, Minnesota to Schreiber, Ontario, on day 2 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017 but we saw some amazing sights along the way and we missed a few, too. We like to get an early start and after a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road but soon thereafter made a brief stop at mile 78 on Hwy 61 at Father Baraga’s Cross.  Here the Slovenian priest erected a cross to offer thanks to God for his survival in 1846 when his small boat was blown ashore during a terrible storm on Lake Superior. He had dedicated his life to minister to the Ojibwe Native Americans and came to this area to offer assistance when he heard of a possible epidemic.


Father Baraga’s Cross


Early morning view of Lake Superior near Father Baraga’s Cross

Nearby Grand Marais, Minnesota, is a popular tourist town on the North Shore and one of my personal favorites. In fact, I would love to spend a week here as a base to explore the Gunflint Trail and Isle Royale National Park, two places we have skipped previously and missed again on this trip. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in Grand Marais, however, walking out to the lighthouse along the breakwater.


Lake Superior from Grand Marais with lighthouse on the breakwater


Grand Marais Light


Grand Marais Light on the breakwater

It was here we learned that each lighthouse is unique both in design and signal to ensure that sailors don’t get confused and lost by lighthouses looking alike.

Check out the Bear Tree on the photo below. This sculpture was dedicated to the town of Grand Marais and depicts two bear cubs whose mother has ordered them up a tree to stay until the danger below has passed.


Grand Marais with Bear Tree on the right


Closeup of the Bear Tree

We haven’t visited Grand Portage National Monument previously but for a couple of history nerds, this was one of many highlights of our trip.



Grand Portage National Monument overlooking Lake Superior

The Heritage Center is a modern building full of creative and informative exhibits.



Heritage Center at Grand Portage National Monument



View of Lake Superior from Heritage Center


But the outdoor exhibits and the Park Ranger interpretive walk really brought this monument to life. Grand Portage was the home of the Ojibwe Indians and the tour begins with a reconstructed village. The Ojibwe women built the lodges using a wood frame covered by bark. A fire burned in the center of the lodge in winter.


Our guide explaining the Ojibwe lodge


Interior of lodge

After the British defeated the French in 1763 in the French and Indian War, British traders flocked to the area and trading companies sprang up. Based in Montreal, the Northwest Company was established in 1784 and operated the largest fur trading post at the Grand Portage Depot. Here fur traders would bring their pelts and trade for goods transported along the Great Lakes. The depot fell into ruin after the American Revolution when the British company moved buildings and all to Fort William near present-day Thunder Bay, Ontario but the reconstructed depot is archeologically accurate.


The Warehouse


Supplies that were packed on a single canoe from Montreal


Entrance to the Buildings Complex


The Great Hall


Pelts in the Great Hall


Birchbark Canoe


The Great Hall


Outside the Buildings Complex

Grand Portage is near the border to Canada and for many years my family traveled to nearby Come By Chance Resort on Whitefish Lake for an annual fishing trip. Jim wanted to stop by and see the place and relive some great memories.


Turn to Come By Chance


Cabins at Come By Chance


Dock at Come By Chance on Whitefish Lake, Ontario

One year I went along with Jim and our kids on the fishing trip and we also visited Kakabeka Falls so we thought a stop there would be fun for old time’s sake. I was surprised to see the sign.


Entrance to Kakabeka Falls

We thought the falls were created during the last glacial period. (Just kidding. The park was established 60 years ago.) Incidentally, these falls are nicknamed the Niagra of the North and for good reason. They are truly impressive and the extensive accessible walkways allow visitors to enjoy the falls from both sides.


Kakabeka Falls, Ontario


Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

We thought we’d spend the night in Thunder Bay but somehow we missed it and we have a semi-rule about continuing on rather than going back. When we found no hotels along our route we thought surely something would appear further along. I was getting nervous, however, seeing these signs as evening approached.


We stopped at a restaurant blaring hard rock music with rooms to rent above and inquired about hotels further up the road. The young lady assured us we’d find plenty in Nipigon so we drove on. When we reached Nipigon, we found no vacancy anywhere due to all the road construction workers who had rented every room. One kindly inn-keeper offered to call and reserve a room for us in Schreiber, an hour away. We, naturally, agreed. When he told us we had a room at Villa Bianca which we would recognize by the gas pumps out front, I was skeptical but what choice did we have with night danger lurking on the road?

We finally arrived in darkness and regardless of my impressions, we were staying the night. We inquired about restaurants to discover we were limited to the three counters side by side at Bianca Villa selling Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Robin’s Donuts. No wine either. This gluten-free girl settled for pizza and beer. Desperate times call for desperate measures.



Fine dining in Schreiber, Ontario



The next morning at Villa Bianca

These are the chances you take when you don’t plan ahead but all in all, it could have been much worse. We didn’t hit a moose and we didn’t have to sleep in the car.

Come back for Day 3 and more adventures on the Great Lakes Road Trip 2017.























Categories: Canada, History, National Parks, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great Lakes Road Trip (GLRT) 2017: Day 1

We first glimpsed Lake Superior in the background as we approached Duluth, Minnesota in the early afternoon on day 1 of our Great Lakes Road Trip.


Duluth, MN on Lake Superior

Just 290 miles (467 km) from home, we regarded Duluth as the gateway to the Great Lakes where we would revisit some of our favorite sights in the fourth largest city in Minnesota. We first headed straight to the Aerial Lift Bridge and found free parking on the other side.


We parked on this gravel road just across the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth

Just as we walked onto to the bridge, we heard the announcement that the bridge was about to raise. Rather than hurry across, we retraced our steps and watched from the far side.

The landmark opened in 1905 and was modified in 1929. It raises an average of 26 times per day to a clearance of 138 ft. to accommodate large ships, pleasure craft, and sailboats entering the harbor. It’s really quite a sight to watch the bridge raise and lower.

Having now checked off the number one sight on our list for Duluth, we proceeded across the bridge to Canal Park where lighthouse lovers can view not one but a lighthouse trifecta.  Lighthouses have long fascinated me so, of course, I was drawn like a moth to the flame.


Duluth South Breakwater Inner Lighthouse with the other 2 in the background


Duluth South Breakwater Outer Lighthouse


Duluth Harbor North Pier Lighthouse

We have fond memories of the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Canal Park and made for the museum after a walk out to the South Breakwater Outer Lighthouse. Here we were reminded Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and contains more water than all the other Great Lakes combined. It is the world’s largest freshwater lake containing 10% of all the earth’s fresh water. In addition to information about Lake Superior and regional history, this little gem also displays photos and artifacts from maritime disasters and recovery efforts. And, admission is free.


Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth, MN


Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth, MN


Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth, MN


Canal Park, Duluth, MN


Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth, MN

There are many other attractions in Duluth including a great aquarium, Glennsheen Mansion, and the 7.5-mile Lakewalk among others but we were anxious to commence our drive along Lake Superior. Near Brighton Beach just outside Duluth where Minnesota State Highway 61 splits from old 61, we continued along the old scenic highway following the lake more closely and captured views like this.


Brighton Beach on Lake Superior

I remarked over and over that I’ve never seen Lake Superior as calm as it was on this lovely day in September. Jim, however, has seen it like this but he used to drive along the lake every year on his way to Canada for the family fishing trip.

We stopped at every historical marker we spotted and the site where the town of Buchanan, named after President Buchanan, once stood intrigued us. Laid out in 1856, the town existed until the land office was removed in 1859 when it disappeared.


View from the site where the town of Buchanan once existed 


Selfie at Buchanan on Lake Superior

Old 61 rejoins the new highway just outside Two Harbors, MN and 12 miles further we pulled into Gooseberry Falls State Park. With easy paved trails, this park is very accessible and gets lots of visitors in the summer but we shared it with few other tourists late in the afternoon in September.


Middle Falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park


Upper Gooseberry Falls


Lower Gooseberry Falls

Our final stop on day 1 at Split Rock Lighthouse is one of my favorites and many must agree with me because it’s one of the most photographed sites in Minnesota. We’ve been there before but this time we paid $10 for the tour and access to the restored lighthouse and keeper’s home.


Split Rock Lighthouse from inside the visitor center

Built in response to a terrible storm in 1905 that damaged or destroyed 29 ships, construction of Split Rock Lighthouse was an engineering challenge with no roads to this remote location. Materials, supplies, and workers were delivered by boat and lifted to the top of the 110 ft cliffside using a steam-powered hoist and derrick.  Commissioned in 1910, it would be 20 years before a road reached the lighthouse.


Split Rock Lighthouse with keeper in period costume out front


Beacon inside Split Rock Lighthouse


Stairwell inside lighthouse

The lighthouse keeper and two assistant keepers lived on-site from May to December in three identical houses. Families typically stayed during the summer months until children had to return to school. One of the homes is open for visits.


Light Keeper’s House at Split Rock Lighthouse


Interior of restored Keeper’s home


Interior of Keeper’s home

Our tour guide told us we could take the path down to the shoreline after visiting the lighthouse and the keeper’s home. As we hiked down the trail, I spotted the stairs in the photo below and thought maybe it was a shortcut. About halfway down, I saw a sign explaining this was the site of the tramway that was built in 1916 to transport supplies up to the lighthouse. I decided maybe the path led somewhere else and not wanting to get lost, I retraced my steps and took the path to the shore. At the bottom, we saw the stairs and climbed them for our return trip. Unless you’re craving a workout, I would suggest other visitors do this in reverse–take the stairs down and walk the gently sloping trail to go back up. 😬


Stairway where tram once stood

The views of the lighthouse from the shore were sublime and the light at this time of day was perfect.


Split Rock Lighthouse


Split Rock Lighthouse



We spent the night at a nice hotel, AmericInn, in the town of Silver Bay which struck me as mostly industrial and we ate a disappointing meal at an unnamed restaurant. I wanted local fish which wasn’t offered and Jim ordered a half chicken that was so small I said it had to be a Cornish hen. Nevertheless, it was a busy and fulfilling first day and we were looking forward to day 2 with enthusiasm.


Based on events from September 2017.









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Great Lakes Road Trip 2017

We like to take a road trip in the fall. The kids are back in school so there are fewer tourists competing for views, roads, hotels, etc. The weather is usually pleasant. We try to plan our trip around our anniversary in September but we also have to work around home football games at Iowa State where we’ve held season tickets for over 30 years. We had planned to circle the Great Lakes in late September 2016 but when a good deal on a river cruise in France came up, we canceled the Great Lakes trip. We rescheduled the Great Lakes for 2017 when we had a 2-week window of opportunity in September.

I’m normally a careful trip planner but frankly, very little advance planning went into this trip. Here’s what we knew: we would begin by heading north to Duluth; we wanted to see all five Great Lakes; we wanted to drive along the lakes whenever possible; we wanted to stop at Jim’s former fishing spot in Canada and visit Niagra Falls and Mackinac Island; we wanted to avoid Toronto having read about the traffic; we also wanted to avoid Chicago traffic. Beyond those parameters, we had no plan. We weren’t sure how far we would travel each day or how many stops we’d make so we didn’t want to reserve lodging ahead and we had not even plotted the route.

With maps, AAA Tour Books, and my smartphone, we planned as we went. We didn’t use my phone for the internet while driving in Canada, however, because data charges through my provider are high. (We did have wifi in hotels at night.) While Jim drove, we watched signs and I studied the AAA books or internet to find places of interest and we stopped at anything that struck our fancy. When we were tired or just felt like stopping, we found a hotel for the night.

How did it turn out? We visited the places on our list, we discovered some amazing places, and we missed a few due to lack of advance planning. We saw all five Great Lakes, we have a new appreciation for them, and we definitely want to return to some areas for further exploration. We got off the beaten path and drove a lot of two-lane roads with little traffic, beautiful views, and road construction. One night we did have a problem finding lodging but we’d brought an air mattress and sleeping bag in case we had to sleep in the car and didn’t use them in the end. Not having internet access in the car while in Canada was a mistake I’ll not repeat. We have these and many more stories to tell about our experience so watch this space.

Would we do it again? Absolutely! The sense of adventure and freedom it gave us was priceless.



Embarking on our road trip


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Our route




Based on events from September 2017.



Categories: Canada, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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